Ask and Check
Many financial scams involve unlicensed individuals selling unregistered investments—ranging from stocks, bonds, and oil or gas deals to fictitious instruments, such as prime bank investments. That's why it is particularly important to "Ask and Check" about investments and investment professionals before you invest. Regardless of your trust or ties, or prior dealings with the professional, do your homework.
Check Out the Seller
If a salesperson is trying to sell you an investment, check them out by following these steps.
Step 1: Ask "Are you licensed to sell me this investment?"
Legitimate investment professionals—including registered financial professionals (also known as registered representatives), investment advisers and insurance agents—must be licensed with the Financial Industry Regulatory Authority (FINRA), the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) or your state securities or insurance regulator before they can sell you anything. If they say they aren't licensed, say good bye—and don't buy.
Step 2: Check.
If they say they are licensed, check them out as follows:
|If They Say They Are a ...
|Registered Financial Professional
Check Out the Investment: Is It Registered with the SEC?
Take these steps to check whether a recommended investment is registered with the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC):
Step 1: Ask the person offering the investment, "Is this investment registered with the SEC?"
If the answer is no, ask why the investment is not registered. Not all securities offerings must be registered with the SEC—such as those issued by municipal, state and federal governments. The SEC also provides exemptions for certain intrastate offerings and small public and private offerings under a rule known as Regulation D. For more information, read the SEC's Microcap Stock: A Guide for Investors.
Step 2: If yes, then use the chart below to help you check that this is in fact the case.
|Where to Check
|What You Get
Call the SEC's Office of Investor Education and Advocacy toll-free at (800) SEC-0330 if you have trouble using EDGAR or have questions about a company or investment.
Keep in mind that registration with the SEC does not guarantee that an investment will be a good one or immune to fraud. Likewise, lack of registration does not mean the investment lacks legitimacy. The critical difference is the extreme level of risk you assume when you invest in a company about which little or no information is publicly available. SEC registration carries a number of advantages for investors, including disclosure of financial and other information that can help investors assess whether to invest in a company's securities.
To check out the registration of the following types of investments, follow these steps:
|Visit the SEC's EDGAR Mutual Fund Search. If you find the mutual fund there, then it is registered with the SEC.
Variable Insurance Products
|Visit the SEC's EDGAR Variable Insurance Product Search. If you find your variable annuity or other insurance product, then it is registered with the SEC.
Exchange-Traded Funds (ETFs)
Exchange-Traded Notes (ETNs)
|Visit FINRA Market Data. Click on the link that says Company Information in the far left column to search for your investment. If you find the ETF, ETN or closed-end fund on Market Data, it is registered with the SEC.